Rugby Union: Lynagh provides the perfect edge

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The Independent Online
Saracens 14

Leicester 13

Who can stop Saracens now? They were awesome on the field as they snatched a high- octane Tetley's Bitter Cup tie they had dominated in play, if not in points. In the end, the faultless boot of Michael Lynagh did the trick with a penalty to grab back the lead with only minutes to go. The foundation, though, was laid by their mighty front five.

And off the field, they may be the one English club making a smooth transition away from the cosy world of amateurism. The atmosphere at Vicarage Road on Saturday was highly charged but friendly and there was the thumping music and dancers that rugby now includes as well as the odd gimmick, like having the rubber tee for place-kicks whizzed on to the field on the back of a small radio-controlled truck. Whatever old fogies might feel, the crowd is clearly getting bigger.

"Soccerfication" has done some clubs no good at all: when Wasps play at QPR's ground, the atmosphere is dead, something like a small, posh dinner party in a big empty warehouse. But when Watford Saracens, as we must call them, play at Vicarage Road, the atmosphere is lively. It is not, of course, rugby as it was once known and loved by the middle class, but at least a new following is emerging.

And on Saturday, nearly 10,000 people had much to cheer. Leicester had pulled away on points through a try, a conversion and two penalties from Joel Stransky. The mark of Saracens was that they never gave up. They never looked as though they would lose and, in the end, they retaliated with relentless, massive forward pressure that won them a try. The ball was released to Kyran Bracken and moved swiftly to Ryan Constable on the right wing where he crossed.

The forwards then piled on the pressure and got a penalty in a kickable position. Lynagh, as ever, made no mistake and the game was won.

After it, the Leicester coach Bob Dwyer, blamed "mistakes" for the defeat. It was a bit like saying Saracens won because they scored more points. The mistakes were forced by the skill and force of a superb Saracens pack, forwards who would give any international side trouble.

It is true that Austin Healey made a daft decision to hoof a drop goal at the end which was doomed before it left his boot, but then other options looked impossible. After the game, Dwyer said that Healey's natural position was back on the wing and that he was good enough to play there for England.

Dwyer also said that professionalism has now brought English rugby close to the standards of the Southern Hemisphere Super 12 teams. You could see what he meant on Saturday, with enough players on the park to form a reasonable World XV.

It is clearly bringing in new, raucous crowds. But will it stay as the dear old game some of us have come to love?

Saracens: Try Constable; Penalties Lynagh 3. Leicester: Try Healey; Conversion Stransky; Penalties Stransky 2.

Saracens: M Singer; R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, R Hill, T Diprose (capt).

Leicester: A Leeds; M Horak, W Greenwood, S Potter (J Overend, 73), L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree, D West, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, M Corry, E Miller, N Back (L Moody, 60).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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